BBC sports presenter Helen Rollason dies

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HELEN ROLLASON, the television sports presenter who earned admiration for the quiet courage with which she fought cancer, died yesterday at her home in Brentwood, Essex, aged 43.

Ms Rollason, who was the first female presenter of the BBC's flagship sports programme Grandstand, was diagnosed with cancer of the colon in August 1997 and given three months to live. She beat that prognosis, continued working despite being in great pain at times and went to Buckingham Palace in a wheelchair last month to receive the insignia of the MBE from the Queen.

Ms Rollason's agent, Sue Knight, said she died surrounded by family and friends. A divorcee, she succeeded in her wish to live long enough to see her 16-year-old daughter, Nikki, through her GCSEs.

In January 1998 the BBC aired a documentary about her called Hope for Helen. In it, she said: "I love life and have a daughter that I must live for. I have no intention of popping off.

"I want to live so badly. I may not make it beyond a couple of years, but that's a couple of years more than I was expected to live."

Tributes were paid yesterday by sports personalities, broadcasters and politicians, who said she had been an inspiration to other cancer sufferers.

Huw Edwards, who presents the BBC's Six o'clock News - for which Rollason had fronted a Friday evening sports preview since last June - described her as "a wonderful team player".

He said: "Her courage over the past two years has touched us all. It has been a real honour to know her."

Kate Hoey, the minister for Sport, said: "Her commitment to the involvement of young people in sport set her apart. She is a great loss to sport."

Peter Sissons, presenter of the Nine o'clock News, said: "She fought her illness every inch of the way and her courage was inspirational. When she did the Six o'clock News for the last time, I saw her crying with pain in the corridor outside the studio only minutes before transmission, but she picked herself up and went in, pausing only to tell me not to worry about her."

Ms Rollason displayed a remarkable will to live that endeared her to millions of fans. She had several operations, plus countless chemotherapy sessions, and lost her hair twice. "You lose your dignity as a woman and don't feel very feminine," she said at the time.

Ms Rollason was devoted to sport as a child and her first job was as a physical education teacher. She was given the Grandstand job after co- hosting coverage of the Seoul Olympics for ITV in 1988. In 1996 she was named sports presenter of the year.

Obituary, Review, page 6